California Mission Founders

The men listed below were key figures in the formation of the California mission system.

Each devoted many years of their lives, traveling and working under hard and sometimes dangerous conditions, to establish and expand the mission communities.

Saint Junípero Serra (1713-1784)

Often called the “father of the California Missions,” Junípero Serra did more than any other man to advance the Catholic church and beliefs in California. He was an indefatigable explorer, organizer and administrator. Pope John Paul II beatified Serra (made him a candidate for sainthood) in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. Both Spain and the United States have honored Serra with postage stamps bearing his likeness.

Serra undoubtedly had a major impact on the settlement of California, but he has also been criticized for the abuse of the California Indians, and the destruction of their culture. In his writings, he sometimes justified the beating of Indians employed by the missions, as children who needed correction.  However, more frequently he stood up for the Indians against ranchers and civil authorities who were attempting to enslave them.

In an interesting historical note, Serra took up collections among his parishes to support the American Revolution, and sent the funds to General George Washington.

Serra’s remains are interred at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.

Junípero Serra Founded:

# Mission Date Location
1 San Diego de Alcalá 1769 San Diego
2 San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo 1770 Carmel
3 San Antonio de Padua 1771 Jolon (Ft. Hunter-Liggett)
5 San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772 San Luis Obispo
7 San Juan Capistrano 1776 San Juan Capistrano
8 Santa Clara de Asís 1777 Santa Clara
9 San Buenaventura 1782 Ventura

Don Gaspár de Portolá (1723-1784)

An experienced and able military leader, Don Gaspár de Portolá served as Governor of Baja and Alta California from 1768-1770. He organized the expedition to colonize Alta California, and personally led the parties that settled San Diego and Monterey.

Pedro Cambón

We have no information on Father Cambón; if you can help, please contact us.

Angel Somera

We have no information on Father Somera; if you can help, please contact us.

Pedro Cambón and Angel Somera Founded:

# Mission Date Location
4 San Gabriel Arcángel 1771 San Gabriel

Francisco Palóu (1723–1789)

Palóu was a close associate of Junípero Serra, and wrote a biography of his life, as well as two books about the history of the missions.

Following Serra’s death, Palóu was named temporary president of the California mission system, until he was succeeded by Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén.

Francisco Palóu Founded:

# Mission Date Location
6 San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) 1776 San Francisco

Fermín Francisco de Lasuén (1736-1803)

An able successor to Junípero Serra, Lasuén doubled the number of missions, and more than doubled the number of converts. He also greatly increased the productivity and wealth of the missions by emphasizing the development of mission farms, herds, and industries.

He is credited with introducing the adobe wall and tile roofarchitecture commonly associated with the California missions.

Fermín Francisco de Lasuén Founded:

# Mission Date Location
10 Santa Barbara 1786 Santa Barbara
11 La Purísima Concepción 1787 Lompoc
12 Santa Cruz 1791 Santa Cruz
13 Nuestra Señora de la Soledad 1791 Soledad
14 San José 1797 Fremont
15 San Juan Bautista 1797 San Juan Bautista
16 San Miguel Arcángel 1797 San Miguel
17 San Fernando Rey de España 1797 Mission Hills
18 San Luis Rey de Francia 1798 San Luis Rey

Pedro Estévan Tápis (1754-1825)

When Fermín Francisco de Lasuén died in 1803, Tápis became acting head of the California Mission system. He was subsequently re-elected to the position three times, and served until 1812.

He retired to San Juan Bautista, where he taught singing to the Indians. Among his other accomplishments, he developed a color-coded system of musical notation which could be easily taught to novices.

Pedro Estévan Tápis Founded:

# Mission Date Location
19 Santa Inés 1804 Solvang

Vicente Francisco de Sarría (1767-1835)

Sarría was noted for baptizing John Gilroy, who arrived at Monterey in 1814, and was the first foreigner to settle in the Spanish territory of Alta California.

Father Sarría headed the California Mission system from 1823 to 1825.

Where he was unable to find a priest for Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, he assumed the position himself. He is said to have died at the altar.

His body is interred at Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Vicente Francisco de Sarría Founded:

# Mission Date Location
20 San Rafael Arcángel 1817 San Rafael

José Altimira

Altamira was an ambitious man; he founded Mission San Francisco de Solano at Sonoma without church authorization, and led the first expedition to Napa Valley.

However, he was a harsh and cruel leader. His abuse of the Indian novices led to a revolt, and Father Altimira fled toMission San Rafael Arcángel. He returned in disgrace to Spain in 1828.

José Altimira Founded:

# Mission Date Location
21 San Francisco de Solano 1823 Sonoma